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Making ribbon quilt block reading cushions

by Pam Voth

Reading is one of my favorite hobbies. I read all types of books, I listen to books and I love to share books with my friends. I also love kids! The best days I had as a teacher were when I found the perfect book to read aloud to my class. No matter what grade I taught, from kindergarten to high school, I always read picture books to my students. This inspired me to create quilted reading cushions for our neighbor girls, ages 3 and 5, Kaylee and Sophia. I chose fabrics – bunnies and owls for the pockets and a ribbon quilt block for the cushion front.

In every post, I write about the job of choosing fabrics. For my baby quilts, I always have fun putting together patterns and colors that are unique. I loved matching the bright colors for my Dresden plate table runner and thinking of my friend’s dining room colors when I was designing my Christmas tree table runner for last month’s hexie table topper. So, this month’s cushions for little girls are just as exciting!! As always, I purchased some fabrics (the owls and bunnies) and found the fabrics for the ribbon quilt block in my stash.

The two completed cushions, with pockets with books in them (white bunnies on pink and multi-colored owls on a white background). The solid cushions (white and yellow) are shown.

Completed reading cushions

All the fabrics for the two cushions from the colorful owls (orange, blue, purple, yellow) for the pocket to the solid yellow for the background to the three colors for the ribbon block (yellow worms, green flower and orange and white daisies). The pink and white bunny fabric for the second cushion’s pockets, the white for the background and the pink floral, red and white floral and pink sparkly fabrics for the ribbon block. 

Fabrics for the reading cushions

As a grade one teacher for many years, I taught lots of children to read. Learning to read is a series of small steps that fit together (letters, sounds, sight words, matching words to pictures) to allow you to accomplish something bigger (reading a whole story or a book). Quilting is the same. You put together a whole series of small steps to create something that make sense and tells a story. I started by cutting the pockets 20” x 16½”. These are folded in half (10” in height) and pressed so that they are double thickness with the folded edge at the top, ready to be sewn into the cushion.

The owls and bunnies are cut into the pockets for the cushions.

The cushion pockets

In order to create the ribbon pattern for the quilt block, the fabric must be cut into 1½” strips, ready to be sewn together. The strips are sewn together in two different ways to make the ribbon pattern on the quilt block. Your ribbon pattern fabric (green on one cushion and sparkly pink on the other cushion) must be sewn as the bottom band fabric of three bands on one strip and the top band fabric on the other. Your top fabric moves to the middle (orange and white daisies and red and white floral) and your middle fabric (yellow worms and pink floral) moves to the bottom. You have to do some problem solving to make sure you are on track but, just like learning to read, it is worth it in the end because the final story is when you see how it all comes together.

The strips for the yellow quilt block are cut and ready to be sewn together. 

Strips ready to be sewn together

After you sew the strips together, cut them into 3½” lengths and begin to form your ribbon pattern.  The other colors make T patterns on the cushion. One of the first lessons you learn as a reader or a mathematician is to look for patterns. I used lots of pattern books when I taught kindergarten and I loved hearing my students apply these patterns when they were learning to write or create. Patterns with fabric are what make quilting beautiful and this ribbon pattern was so fun to create. I love the challenge of quilting.

The pink, red and sparkly strips are cut and ready to be sewn together to create the 3 ½” squares that will be assembled into the ribbon quilt block

Sewing the strips together to create the ribbon pattern

The final product is laid out in rows (like a story) with the ribbon pattern and the T patterns visible. My cushion is 16” x 16” and is now ready to be sewn together block by block, one row at a time.

The completed 3 ½” squares for the yellow cushion are completed and ready to be sewn into rows for the ribbon quilt block. 

The ribbon pattern ready to be assembled into a block

I loved teaching children to read. There was always that moment when everything just clicked, and reading became a habit with muscle memory developing and comprehension kicking in to make it a joyful hobby for my students. As I write this, I realize it’s a great comparison to quilting. It’s challenging and you sometimes struggle to make things just right, but if you persist and have patience with yourself, reflect on the end goal and laugh at yourself sometimes (like when you mispronounce a word), you have something that not only brings joy to you but, to the lives of those around you. So, I carefully match the rows and continue to create a reading cushion for some little girls to store their treasures of books and maybe even journals with their own stories.

The strip of blocks is shown pinned to the larger ribbon block, ready to be sewn together to make the completed cushion cover on the pink and red cushion. 

Sewing the ribbon block together

I complete the fronts of the cushions by adding a 2” border all the way around. This allows me a little extra fabric to match it to the 16½” back of the cushion where the pocket is attached.   

The pink ribbon quilt block with the 2” border pinned on. 

Sewing the border on the ribbon block

The pink and red ribbon cushion and the yellow/green/orange ribbon quilt blocks are shown with their 2” borders sewn on.

The completed ribbon quilt blocks with borders

When I was a primary teacher, I always created book bags or pouches for my students. When life becomes normal again, I plan to volunteer to make these for my friend who teaches kindergarten.  There’s nothing more fun to a child than carrying a favorite book home so they can read it with a family member.

The cutter, mat, ruler and bunny fabric is shown with a 2” strap cut and ready to be sewn together.

Creating the straps

To assemble the cushion, right sides together with the pocket and strap inside. Take a moment to think about the pattern on the cushion and make sure that it will be the right way up when you turn it right side out. I love the ribbon quilt block and I’m planning to create a complete quilt out of it sometime soon.

I have not worked on my sampler quilt for my bedroom this month because I have been busy with Christmas projects. With life as it is now, and with Covid-19 numbers seeming to be surging, I will be back at it in January, after the Holidays.

The two stages of assembling the cushion. Tucking the strap and pocket inside and the final step of pinning the cushion right sides together for sewing . A space is left on the right side above the pocket to stuff the cushion form inside.

Assembling the cushion for sewing

The reading cushion is sewn together, with a space on the right-hand side to stuff the cushion in. I used a slightly wider seam (½”) to ensure that I captured all the layers and to ensure that the cushion form fills out the entire shape of the cushion.

The bunny cushion is shown with the 16x16” cushion form.

Almost complete, ready to stuff with the cushion form.

The final step is to blind stitch the edge closed and fill it with a book!

Clips are shown holding the slit together in preparation for blind stitching the yellow owl cushion closed.

Blind stitching completes the cushion

In January 2021, I will have been quilting for 2 years. My life has changed a lot in this time. I have become a retiree; I have learned the importance of finding your purpose and looking for ways to make the world a better place for those in your circle. I have become connected to my quilting mentors who are strong and wise, focused on learning and trying new things. We share books, fabric, stories, ideas and support each other through difficult times. They have encouraged me and made me, not only a better quilter (they made me a quilter), but a better person. I have learned so much from them and I’m so grateful for their friendship.

You’re responsible for your own life, your choices, your joy and your ability to experience equanimity (the place in your life where you see your problems as challenges and opportunities and tackle them head on). Life is a journey, and as I encourage these girls as readers, I have also been able to challenge myself to be better at quilting, giving and just living my best life.

So, as with every project I do, I have a beautiful gift for someone, I have learned a new skill and I have strengthened my connections with those I care about.

Ribbon patterns in pink/red shades an orange/yellow/green. The ribbon pattern is in green and in sparkly pink. The T shapes are in orange and white daisy and yellow worms in Cushion 1 and red and pink floral in cushion two. 

Ribbon pattern quilt blocks

My next project (for February) is a valentine table topper. I have never tried to create a table topper that is round so, that will be my next challenge. I’ll also be back at my sampler quilt and thinking about making a table topper for St. Patrick’s Day. I have so many projects (like a quilted wreath for my door – winter themed) bouncing around in my head that my quilting future is bright.

My quilting group will celebrate our 2-year anniversary. Two years that actually changed my life in a very positive way. When I retired, I could not imagine how I was going to fill my days and now I sometimes wonder how I’ll get everything done. The biggest difference is choice, I choose to connect to people, commit random acts of kindness, be an encourager, learn every day and choose the story about every situation that arises in my life.

The cushions with their bunny rabbit and owl pockets with books (The Pajama Zoo Parade and The Little Llama meets a Unicorn) inside. The rabbit cushion has a white background and the owl cushion has a yellow background. 

Reading cushions, a special gift


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